Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

Unintentional effects of violence

Shadows / A Murder in Mansfield
Regissør: Noa Aharoni/Barbara Kopple

The shadow of violence can extend far and wide, and these two films show the indirect damage that continues long after the direct violence has ceased.


"Welcome to the Heart of Darkness." With these words, Yigal Schwartz introduces us to what remains of his former childhood home, now an overgrown ruin he refers to as a sadomasochistic prison. It's the place where his, let's say "dysfunctional," family lived. In the stable, his father used to beat up his sister. Shadows is a film about second-generation Holocaust survivors, an identity that is obviously so strong that the film mentions it after introducing each of the three protagonists with their (former) occupation and family status.

Shadows shows three second-generation survivors who not only carry the scars following their parents' trauma, but who in turn are sources of scars for their own children. Yigal Schwartz's mother participated in the death marches, and was abused and raped. She was the only member of the family to participate in these marches, and Schwartz strives to understand how it was possible. During a family gathering it becomes clear that the topic is taboo. The story is too painful to be told, and we don't really get a satisfactory answer.

Eitan Michaeli, a retired security officer, has problems with every authority and with his mother Hava. She gets oxygen all the time and is very weak. He visits her dutifully, but is unable to express even the slightest kind of devotion. While his mother tries to open up and talk about their mutual feelings before she leaves this world, Michaeli feels it is too late for it and sincerely looks forward to the relief it will be when she dies.

Miri Arazi, a handwriting examiner associated with the judiciary and unwanted daughter, tells how her parents always kept a close eye on what she said and did, and made sure she realized what a disappointing and worthless chore she was. When she sees the apartment they lived in and the building her father threw out of, she tells of the father's abuse. She also listens to her father's recording of his own war experiences – what he couldn't share with humans he could obviously share with a machine.

It is obvious that the accidental effects of violence extend past the children and to the grandchildren.

A third generation is suffering. It's not so much these stories do Shadows worth watching, because there have been other documentaries about second-generation survivors, such as The Price of Survival (Louis van Gasteren, 2003). Rather, it is the expansion from the second generation to the third that makes this film particularly strong. Schwartz tries to protect his young daughter Zohar from the atrocities of family history, thus prolonging the silence. In a brief telephone conversation in the film, Michaeli commands his son Roy to look after his grandmother while he and his wife are traveling, even though the worst can happen. He can not stand to be contradicted. Arazi's son Avi is quite explicit when he recounts his memories: "You used to walk around the house like a stern sergeant and scream…" It is obvious that the unintended harmful effects of violence reach beyond the children and to the grandchildren.

Shadows rests heavily on the stories told by the participants, and the visual language supports the narrative of these events. But there is something that needs to be said in favor of the amount of talking heads in the film: Stories that these need meet face to face to be told and listened to. Family photos are also included, and show seemingly happy parents and children, in sharp contrast to the stories. The music is more problematic, as it emphasizes the victim role of the three protagonists. Thus, the film reinforces the victim aspect rather than giving these people strength.

Blinding proximity. Another type of accidental injury forms the basis of Barbara Copper's new film A Murder in Mansfield. Kopple describes Collier Landry's efforts to find an end to his family history: His father allegedly killed his mother, and as a 12-year-old, Landry testified against his father in court. Now, at the age of 38, he seeks reconciliation with the family, both sides of which have broken up with him – one because he reminds too much of his father, the other because they believe he betrayed his father. Landry is marked by having lost his mother, family and community, and hopes that his father will eventually admit his guilt. But he does not. As unlikely as it may seem, the father continues to deny that he killed his mother, and repeats that it was an accident. Landry only wants his version of the truth confirmed, and is not open to other possibilities. Eventually he realizes that he must reconcile that he has lost his father as well as his mother. More problematic is that the filmmaker blindly follows Landry's version of the story and never questions his memory or his testimony as a young boy. Landry is a film photographer by profession. It seems that the closeness of the person has got in the way of an investigative approach to the drug.

Both films show us how violence affects those directly affected by it, but also secondary victims such as the third generation and the witness.  

Both films show us how violence affects not only those directly affected by it, but also secondary victims, such as the third generation and the witness. Through guidance, Landry has learned that forgiving means letting go of something, accepting that whatever happened is no longer your problem. Unfortunately, in most cases this is easier said than done.

Willemien W. Sanders
Willemien W. Sanders
Sanders is a critic, living in Rotterdam.

You may also like